All Worldviews Have Holes

First, a quote, and then some reflections on it:

Sincere seekers are often painfully aware of holes in their current philosophies — and every worldview that pretends to answer every important question does indeed have holes somewhere because it’s overreaching. So a worldview that seems to fill the irritating holes in a previously held philosophy can be very appealing, especially if it claims not to be subject to human limitations.

Mary Johnson, in an interview with Hemant Mehta

I think the above quote is insightful and incredibly important. It helps make sense of why some people move from Catholicism to atheism and others from atheism to Catholicism, to give one example relevant to the interview with Johnson. Anyone who examines their own worldview carefully will spot holes, and the desire to fill them may lead that person to embrace another worldview, because it fills the holes that are painfully empty – not realizing that that worldview leaves other holes just as painfully unfilled.

Johnson’s insight may be helpful for those who find it puzzling that some of us choose to live with mystery, and to inhabit this or that imperfect worldview while acknowledging its limitations. For many of us, this is because we know that no worldview will completely satisfy or solve all mysteries. And so we prefer to live within a worldview and accept its weaknesses honestly, and focus instead on trying to be better people, rather than keep switching camps and arguing about which is better.

To paraphrase Micah 6:8, “We have been shown, oh human beings, what is good. And what does any decent worldview require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your Mystery.”

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  • angievandemerwe

    Walking humbly with your mystery, means that scientists, as well as believers, must not use their science or religion to frame another’s life. Because we cannot know everything about “God” or science at a given time, then we are to make responsible decisions about our lives with our own values and goals in mind. When I take ownership of my own life, then I have become humble, because I am aware and consciously choosing what I place my value in, and in so doing I do not seek to impose myself upon others. Those that govern have to choose where their policies will affect lives, as they always do. But, they should never pre-determine an individual life. Lives are to be framed by the person’s choices.

  • angievandemerwe

    And just because we live without all the answers does not mean we do not know some things. So, while we live without all the answers, we seek to understand more about the world. So, mystery isn’t relavant to actually living one’s life, as we live within our political realms. “God” is only the answer one gives when they don’t want to do the work to investigate the “whys”….

  • Zeno

    It is sometimes said of competing philosophical systems that
    we haven’t the luxury of choosing the one without difficulties, since they are
    all problematic at some level. Rather, when choosing between philosophical
    systems, our decision concerns which problems we can tolerate having. That is a
    very sensible perspective, and I take it that something along these lines is
    being affirmed in this post. Whatever grand system we have adopted as an object
    of our belief, it is probable that there are at least some aspects of that
    system that are highly dubitable.

    With that said, I think there are two things worth noting
    concerning the topic at hand. First, acknowledging that there are problems
    attending every worldview is not to endorse some sort of worldview
    egalitarianism. By “worldview egalitarianism” I mean the view that since every worldview
    has its problems and puzzles, they should be treated as epistemically on a par,
    that is, equally preferable from a rational point of view. Change from one to
    another represents neither progress nor regress, but is a mere swapping of one
    set of difficulties for another. There are many reasons why there mere ubiquity
    of difficulties does not entail such a worldview egalitarianism, and I do not
    aim to mention them all. I will draw only on an analogy from competing
    scientific research programs. It is well-known that all major scientific
    theories are born and develop amidst a multitude of anomalies. Nevertheless,
    some theories are constitutive of research programs that are “progressive,” as
    some philosophers of science have said. These progressive research programs lead
    us to make bold predictions, to discover new facts, and to unify previously
    disjointed bodies of knowledge. Degenerate research programs, however, seem
    perpetually in the task of catching up with the data, but in doing so make no
    novel predictions and bring no new unity to our understanding of the world.
    Herein resides a relevant dissimilarity between evolution and creationism. While
    both are afflicted by difficulties and anomalies, the former but not the latter
    represents a progressive research program.

    Similarly, after
    noting that all worldviews are vitiated with anomalies, we can ask ourselves
    whether some worldviews are more advanced than others with respect to being a
    constitutive part of a progressive “research” program. Here I think the answer
    is clearly that some are more advanced in this way. For instance, some
    Christians have a worldview that incorporates the results and discoveries of
    our best scholarship in biblical studies and biology. Other Christians,
    unfortunately, have adopted a worldview that is fundamentally at odds with new
    knowledge, and seem to think it a mark of true piety to be highly suspicious of
    the results of our best scientific inquiry. Christians in the former group will
    find that constitutive of their worldview are theories that give rise to novel
    expectations and new unifications (e.g., the JDEP hypothesis). Those in the
    latter group, however, are reduced to perpetual damage control, writing gigantic
    tomes that attempt to harmonize whatever sacrosanct theory is their heart’s
    desire with the data but that lead to no new expectations or impressive
    unifications of knowledge (e.g., defenses of Mosaic authorship of the Torah).
    Both are not without their anomalies, but this similarity is superficial and
    myopically focusing on that dissimulates and underlying difference that is
    hugely relevant. If we do not attend to that difference, then we will not be
    able to distinguish genuine inquiry and scholarship from mere apologetics.

  • Beau Quilter

    Whether or not I agree with this, James, depends largely on how you define “mystery”. Is a mystery … – simply something that we do not know (perhaps we will know it later, perhaps not, but we do not know it now). – something that is unknowable (impossible to know by its nature) – something that is secret to most of us, such as the ancient secret mysteries practiced by cult priests, but unknown to the general public – something that we will know only after we die I could also say, James, that I am content to live with mystery, but only using in the first definition. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th definitions are conversation-enders.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Personally I find I must also learn to live with mystery in the second category – not that these things will necessarily remain unknowable for all time, but that there will almost certainly not be answers in my lifetime, if ever.


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